An Amazing Leg with A Heart-breaking Finish
It was a heart-breaking finish to Leg 6 for Dee Caffari’s Turn the Tide on Plastic. The hard-working young crew sailed the 6,100 nautical mile leg from Hong Kong to Auckland fighting relentlessly for a podium position, only to have it snatched from them in the final moments.
Half way through the race a podium position for this team would have been the perfect story. The world has watched as Dee Caffari has led a young mixed gender crew, teaching them the ropes of the Volvo Ocean Race as well as providing invaluable lessons as a mentor. To date, the team might not have seen the results they wished for, but every arrival has seen Caffari step out to face the media with a smile on her face and an echo of ‘we will do better, we will come back stronger, we’re still growing as a team’.
The arrivals into Auckland, however, played out in a way that no one could have expected. In sailing, the expression ‘it’s not over until it’s over’ is repeated time and time again and with good reason. As Turn the Tide on Plastic approached Auckland they appeared to be in a solid 3rd place – even within reach of 2nd or even 1st. Having proved themselves as competition to the more experienced teams in the race, Caffari and her team were relishing in the thought of finally having a result that reflected how hard they have worked.
It wasn’t until they were a few miles off the finish line that Spanish team MAPFRE and Chinese team Dongfeng Race Team were able to strategically overtake them from an outside line.
So here is the story of what has to be one of the most emotional finishes of all time, as told by the sailors.
As Turn the Tide on Plastic reached the dock in Auckland, the crew stood on deck throwing lines over to the shore crew. Then, they did something slightly out of character for the young crew, who are usually awash with excitement at having completed another Volvo Ocean Race Leg, they immediately turned to pack up the boat.
Skipper Dee Caffari crouched over the side to do her obligatory arrival interview. She was making no effort to hide her disappointment, it was clear in her voice. This time there was no talk of this being ‘good for the team’s development’ or ‘next time’. Instead, she displayed signs of visible and raw disappointment. “We’re pretty gutted. You can tell by the fact that nobody is standing on the deck here. I don’t even know what to say. We had a good race and we thought we were going to have a better result, but those pesky red boats always seem to get in the way,” said Caffari.
For local kiwi, Bianca Cook the defeat was all too much as she greeted the crowd of friends and family on the dock, all sporting ‘Team Cook’ shirts. During her interview with the MC, Bianca turned around to welcome her team members to New Zealand. But as she had predicted, they had all disappeared below deck.
“It was a bittersweet finish. It was one of the warmest welcomes we’ve had yet and to be sailing into my home port was incredible. I was well aware of our leg position, but it wasn’t until I watched the replay footage of our arrival interviews that I realised how devastated the rest of the team were. Our position does not in any way reflect the leg we had, it was our best yet,” said Bianca Cook.
Avoiding the cameras, the lights and the sea of people on the pontoon, there was no hiding what the team were feeling. Within earshot of the jubilant sounds of relief from MAPFRE and Dongfeng Race Team they sat without words, mostly head in hands, some not able to hold back the tears.
“It was horrible. Unlike most offshore races you have time to process the result before arriving at the dock. This leg the reaction was magnified. Being overtaken by two boats and losing out on a podium place in the final few miles after sailing such a strong leg was a kick-in the guts. It meant the emotions were still very raw on arrival and we didn’t have the time and space to process it. The only thing we thought to do, was to take ourselves below deck in our dismay. There wasn’t anything anyone could really say at the time to pick up our spirits. We were so hungry for the podium, we thought it was ours,” said Henry Bomby.
Lucas Chapman spoke of the disappointment he felt, referring to the Volvo Ocean Race kiwi legend: “Sir Peter Blake famously said ‘this race gets in your blood and you can’t get rid of it.’ This is what’s happened. To compete is a dream come true but to be on the brink of a podium, that is the real dream. It was disappointing to get so close and then to lose it in the final push, but as I’m learning the nature of this race means nothing is guaranteed until you cross the finish line. Anything is possible,” said Lucas Chapman.
Apart from giving it their all, this leg was special for other reasons. The team just did things better. They sailed better, they made better decisions, and most importantly they sailed the boat fast. This was the leg that moved the team from being assumed ‘tail enders’ to a real threat.
“My only condolence was the fact that once we hit land, everyone else seemed as frustrated by that finish as us, even the sailors of the other teams. That must mean we sailed a good leg and they are now starting to take notice of what we are doing out there and considering us a serious threat,” said Caffari.
Only hours earlier in the day, David Witt Skipper of and Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag said: “Dee’s just about to come around the corner. We really hope she can stay in front of MAPFRE and Dongfeng, she deserves to be on a podium.”
These sentiments were reiterated by Charles Caudrelier, skipper of Dongfeng Race Team, when he said in his arrival interview: “yes it was tough racing at the end with Turn the Tide on Plastic and MAPFRE. It was not very fair for Turn the Tide on Plastic who had a fantastic leg and then finished 5th.”
Some might ask the question, is it better to have almost won and lost it or is it better to have never come within reach so when the disappointment comes, it doesn’t hit you quite so hard? For Turn the Tide on Plastic, despite the gut wrenching result of Leg 6 it is for sure to be within reach. It’s time to go forward and echo the good performance of Leg 6 in the upcoming Southern Ocean Leg 7 to Itajaí, Brazil.